Richard Murphy says he's lucky to be alive. Sitting across from his desk was a customer trained in CPR.
"I had a widow-maker heart attack. I dropped dead on my office floor," he recalled.
Murphy was only 40 at the time. His main heart artery was completely blocked. Doctors opened it with a stent, but that got clogged too.
He got two more stents, but his heart was already damaged beyond repair. Doctors also implanted a defibrillator and pacemaker before sending him home.
"You don't know what the future was going to hold. They said he wouldn't get out of bed again," his wife Allison said, remembering that doctors weren't sure he'd survive.
One third of Murphy's heart no longer worked. It was like an overstretched balloon: The heart muscle was weak and thin. It didn't have enough strength to pump the blood to his body, making him short of breath and tired.
A heart transplant was out of reach. Richard and Allison were in search of a medical miracle.
"I really had no quality of life at all, homebound," he said.
Then this former Army paratrooper would find help -- in a parachute like no other.
Dr. Charles Lambert is chief cardiologist at Florida Hospital's Pepin Heart Institute. He showed us Murphy's cardiac catheterization on his computer screen as he explained: "This is really the first device of this kind, ever. It's a big device, and it's put in through a catheter -- a big catheter."
The parachute, which looks like a coffee filter, is folded up inside a tube, or catheter, that's threaded in the an artery in the groin. Using wires, the parachute makes its way into the left side of Murphy's failing heart.
When the parachute is released, tiny barbs along its edges attach to the heart wall to keep it in place.
Murphy's heart was so weak, it was in danger of rupturing. The parachute added another layer of protection.
Eventually, cells will grow over the parachute, allowing the device to incorporate itself into Murphy's heart. Once that happens, he can stop the blood thinners he is now taking. The parachute will stay with him the rest of his life -- keeping his blood flowing, reducing stress on the healthy part of the muscle.
"I didn't expect him to feel better right away. I was amazed he felt better immediately," Dr. Lambert recalled.
"It's a night-and-day difference in my attitude, in my ability to breathe, and my whole outlook," Murphy offered. "I woke up this morning. I was so thankful to be sitting here with this device inside of me, and knowing that's it working. It's mind-boggling really."
The difference so profound that Murphy sealed it in ink. He showed us a new tattoo on his right upper arm: "Born to lose - live to win."
"The heart attack has changed everything about what I think and what I value," he explained.
Dr. Lambert says the parachute is approved for use in Europe, but here in the U.S., you likely won't be able to buy it for another year and a half to two years.
For Murphy and his wife, the parachute is buying them precious time.
"We can look five, 10 years down the road, instead of a year, and not know what was going to happen. At least we have a positive outlook," Murphy added.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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